Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: Knitted 'hammock' a fun way to support squashes

Dear Helen: Next year I want to grow as many food plants as possible vertically, on trellising or wire fencing, to save space. My question: How does this work for squashes and melons that grow big and heavy? Will they need some sort of support to prevent them from detaching from the climbing vines?

S.S.

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It’s always amazed me how even heavy squashes usually stay attached to vines growing vertically on a support. Still, seeing them dangling in mid-air can be unnerving and they do sometimes detach from the vines.

Gardeners use various types of slings to support squashes and melons as they grow larger and heavier. Popular are pantyhose, the squash slipped inside a leg whose ends are attached to the vine’s support.

Lengths of old lace curtaining or other lightweight materials can be fashioned into squash and melon “cradles.” Mesh produce bags can be useful for the purpose too.

Last month, I was introduced to another squash support option that may interest gardeners also handy with knitting needles and crochet hooks. Linda sent along a photo of a squash “hammock” that her daughter Hollie made to cradle trellised squash. I was quite taken with it as a garden aid that is attractive and amusing as well as useful. Hollie’s type of squash hammock would also make good use of the odd bits of yarn that knitters often have on hand.

You are wise to plan on growing more food plants vertically. It is such an efficient method for saving space. I have several lengths of sturdy wire fencing that I unroll at the start of every growing season and set up for supporting runner and pole beans, cucumbers, shelling and snow peas, tomatoes and climbing zucchini along with sweet pea and annual morning glory vines.

Their “footprint” in the garden is minimal, and smaller plants like lettuces and bush beans, alyssum and nasturtium fit nicely along the bases of the climbers.

Dear Helen: I was happy with my Aunt Molly’s ground cherries this summer, but I thought they would be larger. I recently ordered seeds for “Gooseberry Physalis Cape Organic” from Metchosin Farm Seeds, but I’m not sure whether they will be any different from Aunt Molly’s. If you grow the plants, what variety do you prefer?

A.C.

Ground cherries are also called Cape Gooseberries and husk cherries. They are varied strains of Physalis peruviana. Tomatillos and Japanese lantern plants are other Physalis species.

The seeds you ordered are likely an organically grown strain of Cape Gooseberry. It is described on their site as growing two metres tall, the plants benefitting from the heat of a greenhouse. This tells me the plants are late to produce but the berries might be larger than those borne on earlier, smaller-growing varieties.

Aunt Molly’s is the most commonly grown ground cherry. It’s a reliable variety, growing 60 to 90 cm tall with wide-spreading stems. It probably produces the largest berries (up to 1.8 cm in diameter) of the earlier producing varieties.

Thanksgiving invitation. Has anything happened over the “pandemic” gardening months that has sparked gratitude in you? Perhaps a newly discovered plant or a refreshed appreciation for a familiar one? Flowers that lightened your mood? More time in the garden? Home-grown food that brought delight?

Should a gratitude-inducing memory come to mind, consider sending me a brief description in an email. I’ll select some to share in the Thanksgiving weekend column, which I’ll be writing early next week.

Plant sale. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, is hosting a Fall Plant Sale on Friday, Sept. 24, and Saturday, Sept. 25, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. To facilitate physical distancing, the sale will be open on Thursday, Sept. 23, for HCP members and volunteers only. The sale will feature plants propagated over the spring. Garden admission is free during the sale. Master gardeners will be available to answer questions.

New hours, membership. The HCP gardens are open for the fall and winter from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. Admission is free for HCP members. For others: adults (16 and over) $12, seniors (60 and over) and students $9. Memberships are available at the centre or online at hcp.ca. Visitors are welcome to bring a picnic, but glass and alcohol are not allowed.

hchesnut@bc.supernet.com

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